As site plan review for Zero Place in New Paltz nears a conclusion, village planning board members on December 19 tackled issues around access to the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and compliance with the village’s affordable housing law in advance of setting a public hearing on these and other aspects of the project that must be fleshed out before any approval might be granted. The Zero Place proposal is for a mixed-use building to be constructed on the empty lot at the corner of Mulberry and North Chestnut streets. It would include 46 apartments over a floor of retail space; the entire structure is intended to be net-zero in regard to energy usage, hence the name.
There are numerous points at which there is access from private property to the rail trail, explained Christie DeBoer, executive director of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust. Portions of the trail are owned by the land trust itself, and that organization also holds conservation easements on other stretches, including the village-owned portion which runs alongside the property in question. This is apparently the first time anyone has asked for permission before creating an access point, many of which existed prior to the trail being established along the former rail bed in 1991. The easement in the village “does not directly speak access,” she noted. Therefore, instead of DeBoer being able to advise on best practices, she is hoping to come away from this process with a model that can be used elsewhere.
An existing access point at the north end of the property is a wooden bridge installed when the park-and-ride was built. That won’t do for Zero Place, according to developer David Shepler, because it’s nowhere near the public square near Mulberry Street, nor the entrance to the public bathrooms. Village trustees will have to decide what to do with the bridge, but expect it to be blocked off on the Zero Place side in any case. An existing crossing closer to Mulberry will be bolstered with gravel ten feet wide, Shepler said.
While ample discussion focused on the removal of that bridge — which is too wide to be used at one of the other access points — it was ultimately determined that this would be a village board issue.
More important to hash out is the types of landscaping which will be planted in the right-of-way, as it could impact drainage patterns and erosion. All work on village property will be paid for from Zero Place funds, and the letter of agreement to be drafted will hash out what responsibility will fall to that property’s owners for maintaining those improvements.
Guy Kempe, chair of the affordable housing board in the village, discussed how those volunteers are evaluating the Zero Place application for compliance with the affordable housing law. This is a process only completed once before, Kempe said, and as such they are still “test-driving the law.” Five affordable units will be required in Zero Place, which will help those board members practice their other duty, maintaining a list of eligible registrants from which tenants may be accepted.
Shepler was hoping for some flexibility in designating specific apartments, giving the example of a senior citizen living on an upper floor moving down to the first as they age. He reasoned that all the apartments would be constructed to the same standard (they must be indistinguishable per the law), and allowing the unit to essentially follow the tenant would make voluntary moves such as that easier. However, Kempe indicated that such flexibility would make record-keeping in the building department all the more difficult.
Board members also reviewed plans for signage and landscaping, including the placement of street furniture. There will be seating on benches and walls, trees watered by runoff, and considerable bicycle parking at the site. No specific colors or fonts for building and business signs was presented. That, as well as finalizing details for these other areas, will be laid out in a final submission before the public hearing, which board members scheduled for January 16 after considerable hand-wringing over their collective ability to render a decision within the time limit imposed under state law. Once the hearing closes, if no decision is issued in the next 62 days, Shepler would have the right to obtain a building permit as an administrative action.